"She was to appear, to speak up, and then to vanish among the sisterly trees in Fruška gora, in order to continue, together with them, just as she had been doing in her youth, to welcome the sun from East and to see it off to the West."
Anica Savić-Rebac, "Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja"
"New women return from afar, from always: from 'without' ... from below..."
Helene Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"
Looking for a female precursor of Serbian literature is not a simple task. The long search should actually begin in the very remote past, from the oral literature, which had been 'proclaimed gendered' ever since 1814, when the division on "male" and "female" oral poetry was introduced by Vuk Karadžić, a language reformer and collector of folklore poetry. "Male" and "female" were the other names for epic and lyric folklore poems (they were both poems and songs because they were originally sung and chanted). Whereas, the heroic or epic poems were chanted while playing the gusle (traditional Serbian string instrument) for others to listen, the female ones were sung for the sake of conversation . Additionally, the epic poems were sung about battles and other "important events", while lyric poems, "female poetry" were sung about the life of an individual within the social environment, and about community, in various moments of life cycles.
The female precursors could, then, be anonymous female singers of poetry, or blind women bards who also sang and chanted both lyrical and epic poems (some of their names were written down by collectors from XIX century and later).
The search might also begin from the turn of the XIV and XV centuries, from nun (monahinja) Jefimija and her poetical works, or from the XVIII and XIX centuries, when Evstatija Arsić, Julijana Radivojević, Anka Obrenović appeared. Again, the appearance of Jelena Dimitrijević might be designated as the turning point, or we should concentrate on the peaks represented by Isidora Sekulić and Desanka Maksimović.
However, in many discussions of about the title of the "first woman writer" most frequently mentioned name was that of Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja.
Milica Stojadinović was born in Bukovac, Srem (Vojvodina), most probably in 1828, and died in Belgrade in 1878. In her youth she became famous for her patriotic poetry which spoke about national awakening. The first book of her poems, Pesme (Poems), was published in 1850, and later on, two extended editions in 1855 and 1869 were issued. She had also published a Diary called U Fruškoj gori 1854 (In Fruška gora, 1854), in three books, issued in 1861, 1862 and 1866.
In her ambiguous figure, as remembered in literary history, two elements were outstanding because she was the first poetess completely dedicated to "singing", in other words, to writing. But predominantly, she was a singer of national spirit, a "vila" (a fairy). However, her poetry was also claimed not poetical, actually, "dispassionate, dull, cold" . The tragic addition to this ambiguity was her own life of "unfulfilled woman", meaning that she had not married and nor had a family of her own, and that she died virtually forgotten, poor, homeless, in the state of disturbed mind.
“The interesting fact in the posthumous history of Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja was that many women were engaged in keeping the memory of her alive, theSpomenica (Memento) published in 1907, which brought her back into the collective memory, had been prepared by women, although all the texts in it, except her own poetry, where written by men ; at a memorial meeting in her honor, organized by women students in Belgrade in 1926”, said Anica Savić-Rebac, an outstanding Hellenist. In 1913, at the end of the text called "Žene i književnost" (Women and Literature), published in the Almanac Srpkinja (the Almanac The Serbian Woman), as an introduction to the segment of the publication which brought biographies of about 50 outstanding women writers in Serbia, Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja was evoked as a poetess "who had given the name to a Serbian woman", in other words, a precursor, a "foremother".
In recent times, her letters and the Diary had been edited and studied by Radmila Gikić. The Diary was reprinted by a renown publishing house "Prosveta", a collection called "Baština" (Heritage), the founder and editor of which was Svetlana Velmar-Janković, an outstanding Serbian contemporary woman writer.
In 1994. Tatjana Rosić wrote about Milica's Diary in her book on romantic diaries in Serbian literature.
Finally, a novel entitled Poslednji zanosi MSS (The Last Fascinations of MSS), by a renown woman writer, Milica Mićić Dimovska, was published in 1996. The novel depicted the last two years of Milica Stojadinović’s life and represented the deconstruction of the myth of Milica Stojadinović, as a search for the living human being between the layers of facts and legends, making it an important example of artistic privilege of female texts.
Thus, the figure of Milica Stojadinović had her own double life in literary History. She had, long time before, become an impetus for forming a kind of herstory in Serbian literature, although such effort had many discontinuities and had been very heterogeneous.
In the mainstream literary history Milica Stojadinović-Srpkinja was remembered for her extraordinary physical beauty, patriotic but non-poetical verses, and the diary which famous critic Skerlić praised as a work "which was among the most important, most typical, intimate documents of romantic spirit in our literature"(Skerlić 1907, 16).
Pointing to its literary quality, Radmila Gikić wrote at the end of her "Afterword": "There was no better way to remember Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja than to reopen her Diary In Fruška gora 1854."(Gikić 1985, 342).
The Diary was written after her second visit to Vienna (her first one was in 1851. On both occasions she visited Vuk Karadžić and his daughter Mina Karadžić). She had kept it since the May 3rd until the September 22nd 1854 , for a "Year of a Soul", during a "fairy's summer". (Savić-Rebac 1966, 154 and 156).
It consists of "more than ten long letters to dear people, poems, /descriptions of/ folklore customs, witchcraft, magic spells, translations from Slovak, translations of Goethe, Balzac, polemics, folklore poems"(Gikić 1985, 325), as well as her own reflections, descriptions of nature, events, and notes added ten years later.
Milica Stojadinović's Diary did not only reflect "romantic spirit", it was also a distinctively woman's text. The female aspect of the text was deeper than the formal modifications Milica had done in the genre, making it a "a combination of the diary in the more specific sense, girl's album which had been in fashion at the time..., writer's notebook at which legends or translations of stories and poems the author liked were being written down, an intimate protocol book in which the letters arrived, and letters sent by herself were written down". (Protić 1986, 143).
In speaking theoretically about a woman’s text, Elaine Showalter pointed to a "double-voiced discourse that embodied the social, literary, and cultural heritage of both the muted and the dominant" groups (Showalter 1985, 263), male and female domains, drawn from the “female space” and maternal tongue, and transcribed into the language of patriarchal order.
The terms "muted" and "dominant" were derived from the concept of anthropologists Shirley and Edwin Ardener, who tried to show a model of women's culture which was not historically limited. Edwin Ardener suggested that women constituted a "muted group”, "the boundaries where culture and reality overlap, but were not wholly contained by, the dominant (male) group" (Showalter 1985, 261). Further on, by the term "muted", Ardener suggested that there were not only the problems of the language but the problems of power as well. In other words, women, if they spoke, had to speak the language of the dominant order.
In his diagram of relation between “muted and dominant groups” spheres, drawn as two not completely overlapping circles, appeared a crescent which was out of the dominant group, which was "wild". This "wild zone", thought of as metaphysical "space" or in terms of consciousness (it might also be thought of in spatial and experimental ways), suggested that a domain unknown to the dominant group, was out of the structure of the language and different from the crescent of the dominant group, of which the muted group was taught by the dominant culture. (See Showalter 1985, 262)
The "wild zone", or "female space", for some feminist critics, became the "site of difference". Showalter, however, argued that "these fantasies of an idyllic enclave represented a phenomenon which feminist criticism had to recognize in the history of women's writing", but it had also to be understood "that there could be no writing nor criticism totally outside of the dominant structure..."( Showalter 1985, 263)
In Milica Stojadinović's Diary combination of various materials, landscapes depicted, the atmosphere of union with nature, interest in folklore art represented characteristics of romantic literature. What this text made was a distinctive “woman’s text”, which showed open interest in women poets' circumstances and, even more than that, the play with materials within which she trans/ins/cribed the voices from the "wild zone" into the patriarchal language. Milica Stojadinović's Diary illustrated in an extremely clear way this double-voiced structure of women's writing, as the texture in which the elements of both dominant and muted groups, patriarchal language and the Voice of the Mother had been woven together.
"The morning was taken away by the broom..."
The topic of women and writing in Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja's diary inevitably comprised issues of lack of free time, chores which prevented her from trying her hand at writing "attempting the pen" and the social image of a woman writer.
In the Diary on May 8th, Milica proudly wrote:
"Had somebody, who had heard about me as a writer before, came in a little earlier and heard my mum tell me, “Go and make a pie for lunch”, he would have been surprised, because the world would not understand that I, besides my talent to write, was also … ……capable for work..."(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 24)
However, the double life of a country girl and a writer could not always be happily balanced, when on June 5th, she began the entry by exclamation:
"Again in the evening!/ And where is the morning?/Where is the summer day?" and she will answer herself,/The morning is taken away by the broom and the feather duster ,And the long summer day is sewn by a thin needle." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 54)
Only five days later, she ended the entry by a poem devoted to her pen:
"/My pen, my dear pen,I leave you so often,But it has never been,/ That I have forgotten you completel, Because you are so dear to me!" (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 62)
The whole entry for the next day was made out of a similar poem:
"Today, again, my pen,/ We have not seen each other./ And now in the late hours of night,/The candle should be extinguished / Oh, my pen, good night!" (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 62)
Of course, there was nothing quite new in the fact that women had to put up with various obstacles if they wanted to write, with the lack of privacy, expectations to have support from a family, daily household duties, their own images in the society were often distorted and mocked.
Although Milica had already been famous at the time when she was writing the Diary, with a lot of renown acquaintances and friends, such as Vuk Karadžić and his daughter, and other Serbian poets and foreign ones, she was considered, in her environment, a country girl, a daughter of the local priest and a literate person, but not exempted from chores and social duties. And when she was perceived as different, she was scolded or ridiculed . In the entry dated "June 20th, Sunday, late in the evening", she wrote down:
“My pen, my little pen /Why does everybody scold me because of you?/You are guiltless,/And my heart fought in vain." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 78)
The diary makes clear problems she had faced in her writing attempts - once she angrily reacted to the remark that it was totally inappropriate for her to write since she had no money, in comparison with the other woman writer of the time such as Anka Obrenović.
The climax of these practical aspects of the problem of women and writing was in a brilliant scene, described in the entry dated August 13th. Milica was at a dinner at her friends' house, when the other guests came. She had hidden her real identity from them and they started to discuss the "case of the poetess", i.e., her own self. In this act of pretending, Milica played the role of a person who had known the poetess very well and was ready to inform others about her. So the irresistibly funny dialogues revealed what mediocre people really thought of that woman writer:
"Madam: '...do you know a woman writer in that Fruška gora ?'
All my cousins, the host, the hostess , looked at me.
Me: 'I know her very well ...'
All the guests: 'Tell us, please, something about her?'
...... :Madam ".....We have heard that she lets her hair fall untangled down her shoulders and that she looks as fantastic as she could.'
Merchant: "That she reads some books , which are only for highly educated men, and that she has become so fascinated that she thinks of herself highly educated, but on the other hand she is really a fool.'
Me: "A fool!" I burst into anger, but calmed down quickly, and looked towards my cousins, and they all gazed at me, and then I answered, laughing: 'Yes, that’s true, you can’t believe what sorts of books she reads... ……...'"(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 176-7)
The whole little drama is a bitterly comical transcription of the problem of un/acceptance of the female authors in social circles. Read in the background of Milica's possible tragical fate, in after she had really taken on herself the role of a 'madwoman', the comical conversation turns out to be a sorrowful prophecy.
"... and the long summer day was sewn by a thin needle"
Domestic work, which in Milica's Diary partly represented an obstacle to writing, was also an inspiration for story-telling. In an entry dated June 13th, after saying she was going to check kneaded dough, she began to tell a humorous story about a woman who once was doing the same. (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 68)
Moreover, the domestic work could set into motion creative forces. In a letter written to Vuk Karadžić, in 1854, she explained that she had created her first poem while spinning the thread on the wheel.
The similar process could be supposed for creation of the lyrical songs/poems sung for "the sake of conversation" while women where spinning, harvesting, picking fruits or doing domestic work. Such physical labor, with its rhythmical, automatic movements, opened a gap through which rhythmical wording appeared, words spun out of the need for enjoyment, pleasure and game. The laboring body gave birth to a song/poem, turning the work into fun and pleasure. Moreover, these songs/poems followed the cycle of seasonal works, from sawing to harvest, which marked the time of nature.
The connection between physical labor/women's work, voice/song/poem and pleasure suggested that a "needle" which had sewn the long summer day, was not always just a needle, and the long thread which looked alike a summer day used up, was not necessarily a hemp, wool or silk yarn. That the words like yarn, needle, embroidery, spindle and other weaver's, knitter's and sewer's arsenal of materials and tools might have other meanings, were recognized in feminist theory long time ago. "Like Ariadne, Penelope, and Philomela, women used their looms, thread, and needles both to defend themselves and to speak silently about themselves." (Gilbert, Gubar, 642).
However, in the culture in which one of the first women's texts had been written down by gold and silver plated thread onto the satin, the nun Jefimija's "Appraisal of Saint Duke Lazar", was embroidered in 1402 by a woman's hand, thus there was the connection between women's text and texture which seemed even more important.
The Diary of Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja as a whole underlined this connection, using the genre of a journal as a loom, she had woven in it all the yarns she had at her disposal, the voices of others just as well her own voice, making not a patchwork but a loosely woven texture, playing freely. No models, no prescribed symmetry, no strict rules to obey, but a game at which the basic principal was enjoyment. The loose composition of the Diary, discontinuities, lacunas, mixture of materials, resemble the rhythm of her own days and reveal the ultimate pleasure she took in the process of writing (and reading), making its style and language a kind of "écriture" the space of freedom.
The space of freedom within the text at the first sight appeared as her "Fruška gora", to which the Diary was actually dedicated. It was some kind of "idyllic enclave", not exclusively female, built on the closeness to nature and the opposition to the outer world. This bordered space was threatened by the reality outside the hills as her letters, reflections and notes written and added to the body of the text ten years later reveal.
But, the real female wild zone was actually hidden beneath the surface of the idyllic life in Fruška gora. Deriving from it, in her writing as the game of freedom, Milica Stojadinović recreated the Voice of the Mother, transcribing it into the Father's language, and united what was opposed, on the first place, the pagan feeling of life with her own, deep, Christian faith.
Sometimes, this union created a comical situation, as in the narrative on vampire. In this episode, Milica told how her father had caught a "vampire", actually, that was a man who was terrorizing villagers so that his companions could rob them. In this comical story, which, as so many other passages in her Diary, served her to point to the need for education and to the evil of superstition, the pagan/Christian meanings were in a kind of clash. But that clash was told about in a very benevolent way, only ridiculing the blind fear of villagers, with an implied expectations that after the episode they would understand how wrong their beliefs were.
Another similar, but much more poetically expressed scene was described in the entry "August 7th, in the morning", when Milica and her little sister Katica saw a woman trying to cure her child from fever by using magic spells:
"From the bridge all the way to the mill on both banks of the stream old willows stood up, which dense branches made thick shadow. While the morning was still breaking up through the dark, we saw some light through the willows branches. We sneaked slowly behind a willow to see what was going on, and saw a woman with a lit candle, taking a child around the willow and speaking clearly: 'I am not marrying thee to this little willow,/but I am marrying your fever to /this little willow' She walked around the willow three times saying such spell, stuck the burning candle onto the willow and left with the child without turning around." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 165-6).
When the little sister warned Milica not to turn around, to avoid being the first persons who would encounter those spells, Milica says: "The suggestion seemed appropriate to me, so our walk was thwarted", adding, self-accusingly: "Alas, the superstition that our people possessed, only few ones were relieved from it!" (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 166).
The scene was set in a mystical and misty moment of morning parting from the night, and in the environment typical for folk stories iconography (water mill, bridge, tree branches). Multi-leveled structure of the "actors" and hidden spectators who shared the common heritage turned this description of magical customs and wording into a performance which included the reader(s), too. It was no wonder why Milica Mićić Dimovska used this episode in her novel on Milica Stojadinović, representing it as a scene from Milica Stojadinović's childhood which heroine ironically recalled during the last moments of her life.
There were many other scenes in her Diary which invoked that mystical power of nature, sometimes in majestic form. Besides the expressions like "being in the lap of Morphey"(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 77) , which was merely a literary fashion, Milica Stojadinović in her diary created the world full of breakthroughs from pagan past, full of voices from the maternal “wild zone”.
When she, for instance, described the customs of the evening before the Saint John's day, June 24, she wrote how the girls braided wreaths of flowers and made banners out of their scarves, and then went back home together, singing: "Flowers of St. John and St. Paul,/Bloomed in a green field..." and also described other customs. The description was interesting in itself, but what made it really powerful was the continuation of the story, when Milica and her sister themselves went to a meadow, braided their wreaths and then suddenly fell into the realm of ancient customs:
"While the last sunbeam was disappearing, our wreaths were finished, so we walked down by a path full of flowers through the meadow to our home. The nightingales were silent, neither the bells of the herd on pasture land could be heard, the usual evening silence wanted to conquer the field, when all of a sudden the voices echoed from all sides: 'Flowers of St. John and St. Paul' And the multi-colored banners appeared in the evening air." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 84-85).
This technique of ‘description came true' or associative narration, such as in the case of kneading the dough, made a double link between the text and reality described: the texts (songs, poems, narratives) seemed to be omnipresent in the reality, anything that might provoke their appearance or the very creation. In turn, the 'reality' described in the Diary was also contaminated by the text: any time, a pure description might slip into an event, such as in the above described case. The reader, as well as the author, was nowhere and never safe, the thin layer of 'reality' might be broken any moment, she/he might slide into another world, which made her/his journey more exciting and enjoyable.
The scene with the wreaths had many hidden meanings. Not only wreaths and their braiding were some kind of " 'mute tradition' " , but the very expression "braiding a wreath" also meant at the time "writing an honorable poem", and Milica used it in her works many times. The voices which broke the evening silence were the girls' voices which came from the distance, invoked and enacted the ancient past, the collective female heritage of singing and magical wording. After this strong breakthrough of the pagan past, the celebration of the very Saint John's day in the church seemed like a necessary balance.
In the reading of Milica Stojadinović's Diary as a 'double-voiced' text, the entry dated "August 25th, in the evening" had the central place. The entry began with description of a custom, which turned out to be the description of the ongoing event, and an impetus to tell a story which had happened on a very similar occasion:
"As the nights grow longer, and the moon turns full, the girls make a prelo ( an evening gathering of local women engaged in spinning, sewing and embroidering) just as this one tonight. They gather at one of their friends’ houses, light a fire in the center of the yard, sit around it, spin hemp and sing various songs connected with spinning, and right at this moment I hear the sounds of this spinners' song:/' Spinners are spinning in the evening/By the light of that shining moon...'
.../ Or they tell a story what has happened and appeared to spinners in ancient times. /A Story/
' Once upon time the spinners were spinning while the moon was full...'"(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 214-5).
The elements of the story such as full moon, spinners and texts were arranged in a spiral-like form, similar to reflections in many mirrors. The author began her sentence first by telling us about a custom, and then pointed to the fact that the custom was being brought back at the very moment of speaking about it, while the songs or narratives sang/told on such an occasion also began with the scenery described. This order of custom-presence-text, where each one mirrors and described the same situation, meant that neither any level could be reliable enough, designated as 'a true one' and, moreover, that we did not need such a firm ground, but should only give ourselves to the currents of song, narrative and text itself.
The story told on this very occasion told us even more. It might serve as a paradigm for the women's writing in general, derived from the maternal tongue and transcribed into the language of the dominant group. That was, without any doubt, why the author prepared its introduction in the Diary in such a playful, but caring way.
The story was actually a version of a well-known, universally told story about "Cinderella". This version began with scene at the “prelo” ( an evening gathering of local women for spinning, sewing and embroidering) at midnight, when an old woman appeared and spoke to the gathered girls: "Children! Take care of your spindles now, because the mother of the one whose spindle falls into the hole will turn into a cow." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 215). As soon as the strange woman had disappeared, the girl, whose yard it was, dropped the spindle into the hole. She ran home immediately and discovered that her mother had really been turned into a cow. This unusual scene, as Bruno Bettelheim told us, revealed the guilt of the girl Cinderella, which had been hidden in most of the versions of the story. The girl's "incestuous" wish turned out to be the initial sin which set the narrative into the motion. No matter whether this "matricidal" scene, with symbolical elements of a spindle and hole, suggested "incestuous" or any other sexual desire, its outcome certainly suggested a fall out from the social order. As we could see at the opening scene here that only women were present, while the place was lit by the moon, It might also be pointed out that the knowledge of the gap which opened towards maternal zone in bordering moments (midnight) was primarily women's.
When the girl saw that her mother had really been turned into a cow, she started to cry, but her mother comforted her: "Do not cry, my daughter, that can not help you, I would stay a cow, anyway. I would feel better if you took me to the pasture land everyday, so that my eyes could look at you as much as I wanted." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 215).
The mother did not blame her daughter. The calm, peaceful tone of the sentence showed that mother-cow was not frightened by the transformation, that she somehow knew the "rules" of the world she had fallen into, that it was not quite unfamiliar to her. Both of them had, actually, fallen from the social order, the Law of the Father, into the female world where they might speak their own language of nurture, care and fulfilling gaze, which could not be understood out of the mother-daughter dyad. The roles within the dyad itself were, at least temporarily, reversed, in other words, the daughter was the one who took care of the mother, and the mother was the one who emanated hungry looks, but this truly female idyll had to end up soon.
What followed, was in great measure the story of text/ure. The stepmother gave the girl impossible tasks of spinning the hemp, which the girl fulfilled by the help of her mother-cow, putting the yarn through her ears, through her body. And, when the stepmother discovered the girl's secret, that body had to be sacrificed. The stepmother pleaded her husband to slaughter the cow. When the girl took the cow to the meadow weeping, the mother-cow again comforted her:
"'Why are you crying, my daughter?' asked her mother., "How can I not I cry?', answered she, 'when you are going to be slaughtered tomorrow.' 'So let it be', the mother told her, 'only, don't eat my meat, but gather all the bones and bury them under the threshold of the house.'"(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 216).
The girl obeyed and the miracles continued to happen. When the next saint's day came, the stepmother went to church leaving the girl at home by the hearth and ash, with a lot of other jobs to do. But two angels came to the girl and told her to wash her face, comb her hair and dig the robe from under the threshold. She found there, "instead of her mother's bones ... robes made of pure gold" (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 216) which she put on and went to church. When another saint was celebrated, the same thing happened, only the emperor's son was now here and started looking for the unknown girl in a golden dress. However, without the clue, he could not find her, so he stayed and waited. The third appearance of the golden girl happened again in the church on Sunday. The stepmother had left the girl even more jobs to do, but the angels came again and sent Cinderella to church. The emperor's son followed her this time and she, stumbling over the church threshold, left the sign for finding her, a shoe. So he took the shoe and went in search for the girl. When the emperor’s son came to Cinderella's home, the angels, transformed in two pigeons, gave him the sign that the right girl was under the trough. The shoe fitted and the young man told her to put on the other shoe and her gold dress and then took her to the church to marry her and they were off to his castle.
The story might, certainly, be read in many ways, as the story of social success, or the story of the sin, purgatory and redemption, or as a story of the ever-winning goodness and justice, or as a story of reunion of animus and anima. However, in the context of this Diary, within the multilayered frame which prepared its narration, and many accents on female world, its aspects of collective work, care and understanding, but also hatred and competition, and, especially, on yarns, textures and strategies/plots, this story inevitably points to the woman's text as texture.
The story which mother-cow knew remained hidden from us in the sense that she never told it in words. She did not need words to communicate it, she simply made it come true, enlivened it by her own body, through the plot. Her bones turn into a magically attractive gold dress, so seductive, that in the story it had to be emphasized that the girl was, in addition to the dress, also very pretty: "...the emperor's son...seeing the girl in the gold robe, could not stop looking at her, he liked her so much, and she herself was also very pretty." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 217). So, actually, it was the body of the girl's mother, transformed into a dress, that initially seduced emperor's son. The dress, of course, seduced in the way that it promised what was not possible, both to the beautiful and rich girl (Antonijević, 75). But, according to the mother-cow's strategies, the promise actually became fulfilled, after finding the girl hidden under the trough, the prince took her into the church and then to the castle, giving her both rank and wealth.
The transcendental, calm tone of the mother-cow while speaking from the verge of death, emphasized her different nature, her belonging to some other world of limitless Generosity. Although Cinderella, eventually succeeded thanks to her mother (her life, her body), the mother was completely devoted to her, comforting her and plotting exclusively for her return to the society.
The key places for the plot were thresholds - mother's bones were buried there and her daughter lost the shoe on the church threshold. At this bordering places, which both separate and unite spheres, outer/inner, sacred/profane, world of dead/world of living, ancestors/successors, maternal/patriarchal, all in all mother's powers seemed to be the strongest.
It is obvious from the story that the "other" world was a source of power. By these powers the mother-cow gave her daughter the ultimate gift of re-birth, bringing her, through the transformed maternal body, back to the social order, and to the highest possible rank next to the male ruler-to-be, the emperor's son.
This world had its own 'maternal tongue' of communication beyond words. It comprised not only of the voice, but of gestures, rituals, maternal gaze , using the signs which were understandable to women.
The stepmother obviously had no trouble in finding out the "magic helper" at the beginning of the story; later on, she tried to make her own daughter seduce the prince three times, by the same way the mother-cow succeeded, by dressing her nicely. It seemed that the stepmother fitted well into the patriarchal order, though she certainly had some memories of the female realm, or, to put it more precisely, the stepmother could not succeed only because she represented evil, but because she was a conformist. The long row of transformation which happened to Cinderella and her mother was a dangerous journey to the wild zone. They paid attention to their re-learning of maternal tongue by humiliation, pain, violent death, fear, and only through this the gold dress could be woven out of mother's bones, the plot might be enliven.
This powerful maternal tongue, which, as words in magic were believed to have done, 'made things come true', was a kind of yarn, thread. When spun through the mother-cow's ears, the amorphous mass becomes yarn, a word, but the word which is still too close to the raw forces of the Voice of the Mother to be applied in social world. The yarn first must be woven into a golden texture, the texture sewn by "a thin needle" into the dress, to be appropriate and attractive enough in the patriarchal world.
There was in Milica's Diary one episode which clearly pointed to this connection between yarn and the "female world", and it was again on superstition. She recalled how her father had heard, on the morning of Saint George's day (when many young girls made spells for getting married), that the church was all wrapped in red yarn, and how he did not want to open it, but waited till villagers came, to give them a speech, "educating and scolding them". Only after that he cut the yarn and entered the church.
This scene, although not a part of the story, was a part of the Diary, and again revealed pagan/Christian dichotomy. The villagers’ concoction of pagan and Christian feelings, could not be accepted, they put spells around the holy place, thus abnegating their own Christianity. The red yarn was not only a raw part of the female world of magical power, but also a flashing sign of not comprehending the church mission. Thus the priest, Milica's father, made point of cutting the yarn in order to enter the church.
The Cinderella's mother-cow, in her all-comprehensive serenity, seemed to know that the women's texture had to be "double voiced", the Voice of the Mother and the Language of the Father. She did not offer yarn to anyone else but to her daughter. And for the “real life-plot”, the Church as a sacred place and her daughter's rebirth into the society, she knew that only a dress of gold could be appropriate.
Thus her own strategy, from beyond the 'reality', made things 'real', Cinderella and the Emperor's son, united in their marriage firm social, symbolic order and loose, slippery, ambiguous nature of the girls origin and past. In this women's centered narrative, told/written down by a woman, the prince did not seem to ask for more than a fitting shoe, a gold dress and the beauty of the girl, while Cinderella brought into the marriage the knowledge of her origin, the wild zone and its temptations.
Eyes of Another World
Just like Cinderella emerging from the everywoman's tasks as a golden lady, Milica Stojadinović was a fairy, a nymph, "Vila (fairy) from Vrdnik", when seen in the context/ure of her poetry. Wrapped in it, a country girl became the singer of the national spirit, the embodiment of it.
According to the Legend there was a real ruler enchanted by her, Petar Petrović Njegoš, the Duke and Bishop of Montenegro, said after he had met her: "I am a poet, she is a poet, had I not been a monk, she would have been the duchess of Montenegro."
There had been, of course, many questions about the "true nature" of some friendships Milica had with men. For instance, Skerlić was almost impolite in his essay on Milica, when asking about the "real meaning" of some lines in her letters to Đorđe Rajković, which went hand in hand with the patronizing nuances of his text.
Also, her relation as a “blood sister” with the poet Ljubomir Nenadović seemed to mean more than just a friendship to her.
It was also known that Milica had a serious suitor in Vienna. When Vuk warned her not to let the man go, who was German by origin, he told Milica that he himself had married a German woman, and did not feel a bit less of Serb because of that, Milica gave prophetic answer, that she would not be "a traitor" of her people, no matter whether her destiny would be gloomy or not , "as it would be". (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 13). These words were not an expression of xenophobia, or rather to say, they made her later fate a choice of different order. It was certainly not a practical choice for a woman who had not had many choices in the time, but still, they were an act of affirmation of her own being. They were written down in an entry for May 6th, in a long "letter to one poet", Ljubomir Nenadović.. Describing her stay in Vienna, Milica wrote about her visit to the poet Frankl and she said about his wife:
"You should meet the lady to understand what lucky days appropriate choice of life a companion brought! .... That educated woman had first fallen in love with Frankls' poems, that is, with his spirit, which she had completely understood, and he, again, appreciated that kin of his soul adequately upon their meeting, so they were spending happy days now!" ((Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 15).
By praising the Frankl's wife, Milica emphasized the lady's education and her interest for reading, her taste and particular ability to see a person beyond a text. What Milica, moreover, affirmed in the passage, was the seductive power of words, the text as a way of courtship. It was not accidental that the passage was written in a letter to Nenadović, with whom she had had 'poetical communication', in writing poems together, or answering to each other by poems, to the person sensible to and seducible by a text. This meant more than Milica’s ability to fall in love only with someone who was as educated or literate as herself; it also meant more than courting Nenadović by a text, actually, the passage meant that her primary devotion was that to the literature, to the body of as a text.
Beautiful as she was, with "eyes from another world" (erdenfremde Augen), as Mina's painting teacher remarked, she herself embodied the union of contradiction of mundane fleshly appeal and distanced attitude. Because of her attitude, she was suspected of a serious lack… "...your guests, young Serbs, /said/ ... that instead of heart I have a stone in my bosom", she wrote to one of her friends(Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 226.
This supposed stone-heartiness was not just the outcome of her shyness, which might be seen in the letter to Nenadović where she wrote that family of the German man wanted her to become their daughter-in-law, she did not write the whole word, only the first letter (s - snaja) (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 13) . Another example of it was her refusal to send Vuk the "indecent" folk poems . There was also the famous remark on expressing the feelings in poetry:
"They complain to Anđelija hugging Dušan, and direct the poet to the beautiful folk poem: /The long lashes of Milica/ at which shyness characterizes Serbian girl, but they blamed me to be without feelings because I did not want to step in front of the world and throw my arms around somebody's neck with my poem. Oh, what smart critics!" (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 226)
In this remark, which Skerlić commented as the proof of her shyness, she actually dismissed the possibility to write about her own erotic feelings at the demand of double critical standard.
The shyness might be, as it was the case in the mentioned folklore poem on Milica, a kind of strategy, or another game of "false/hidden" identity, which Milica Stojadinović evidently enjoyed: like a game of present/absent expression of feelings which Milica still “played” with her readers and biographers nowadays.
Milica’s "coldness" also was part of her "poetics of renunciation" of the mundane, fleshly, personal in the name of devotion to collective ideal of nationality and patriotism, to the world of the word. But, as we have seen, her world as it appeared in the Diary was deeply enriched by the maternal realm where the sensuous, tactile and visible elements played extremely important role. As nymphs (vile), proud of their singing, were depicted as beautiful girls with lack of animal (goat's, horse's...) legs hidden beneath the long, white robe, she herself was "like a beautiful nymph from the fairy world who inspired, but did not give, love". This lucid remark, made by Mina Karadžić, connected nymphic (sensuous) character of the name "vila", the fairy world chosen and recreated by the poetess and her lack, her stone-heartiness.
Moreover, Milica Stojadinović did love, and she openly expressed her love to her parents, her sister, her brothers, her niece and for her nation, the nature around her... It was only the absence of open expression of her erotic feelings, her spinsterhood that had made her a madwoman in the eyes of the contemporaries.
Milica’s refusal of marriage as the only resort for a woman in that age had turned her later in her life into a homeless, miserable person. But, while singing as "Vila from Vrdnik" she was kept safe in that armor of her lack, "stoned heart", evading blessings and duties of a married woman, prolonging her period of education and devotion to books:
"When /a woman/ crosses the border of childhood, then the mother meets her with spinning wheel, with ladle, with rolling pin... to educate her for a housewife... Our old Vuk had told me that there were enough housewives in our people, but there are not /women/ like me." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 138)
The lack of personal was for Skerlić the main reason why her poetry was dull and cold. He did not recognize in it what Anica Savić Rebac called the "tragic feeling of life", thus making an attempt to revitalize her poetic reputation.
Read in the context of the Diary, her verses, though unskilled, irregular, with "impossible" versification, as Skerlić evaluated them (Skerlić 1907, 7), really have some "extra value" - her feeling for nature, her patriotic thoughts, all fit into the plot which unites nature and civilization, Christianity and paganism.
Milica Stojadinović was not xenophobic. She had a lot of friends from another cultural milieus, she was learning foreign languages, translating from German and Slovak. She was, of course, no "nomad" in the modern sense of the word. Living in the foreign empire, looking out to Serbia she couldn't exclaim, as Virginia Woolf did: "As a woman, I have no country". On the contrary, as some other romantic poets of her time, she took on herself the role of national poet, firmly believing that this was her primary task, that national, collective, had to be put over personal. Therefore, most of her poetry was devoted to this.
In her diary, however, yet another country of her own emerged powerfully, the world full of reminiscence of the "all-female" region the, again, collective, but this time, female, unconsciousness. She was in fact writing a kind of "biomythography" , recording the archetypal female voices and images, on the verge of disappearance (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 283) . Engaged in such personal/collective effort, she had no real need to confess more than she did that she made the trivial surface of her days boil with meanings of ancient female realm, turning Cinderella's chores into vestal-like duties of keeping the fire.
There was in her Diary a scene which strongly affirms this faith into the power of the Voice of the Mother. Milica was a godmother to a child of a blind woman Jela, a singer of folklore poems, a bard (from such bards Vuk and other collectors learned many poems, both heroic and lyrical /male and female). Because of superstition that it was not good to be godmother or godfather of a blind parent's child, the son of that woman could not be baptized (the pejorative for a blind person in Serbian /slepac, slepica/ also means a person who is miserable, who has nothing), Milica's father suggested her to help baptize the child, so she became the godmother of the child and gave him the name "Božidar" (God's gift) (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 67).
Two days before Vidovdan (a slava in Serbia, the day named after Vid, pagan deity of light and sight /eyesight in Serbian is "vid", daily light - "videlo"), and also the day when the Battle of Kosovo had happened, people used to come to monastery Ravanica near Vrdnik were Milica lived, to pay tribute to the relics of Saint Duke Lazar who had lead Serbian nobles in the battle and had been killed there. Among the pilgrims there were many singers of folklore poems. Milica, as she wrote in the entry for June 13th, heard that a woman was inquiring about her and went outside the house to see Jela. She invited the singer into the house. The humbleness of the blind woman, her shyness because of the presence of Milica's parents, showed the social differences which Milica had already abolished by becoming the godmother of the singer's child.
The key description in the scene was her focus on the blind woman's eyes: "She lowered her eye lids with long lashes covered by eternal night, and answered shyly..." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 64)
The woman kept her lashes lowered, shy, but also self-contained, closed into another kind of sight, vision different from what ordinary people saw.
Just like Milica's beautiful eyes (erdenfremde Augen), the eyes of the blind woman were also of an another world, turned away from the 'reality'. What both of them "see" on this day devoted to Vid, was the world of words, words sung, ‘ the voice’. Jela sang, as Milica had asked her to, a "sorrowful poem", at which a desperate woman cried out:
"May God kill you, servant Radoslav./Why didn't you tell me the truth/So I would not go through the mountain singing/I would have gone through it crying/Making the leaves in it fall down/and the fir trees shake from their roots..." (Stojadinović-Srpkinja 1985, 66)
In this gorgeous inner vision these women united their destinies, because Milica was also doomed to become 'blind’ in the very sense the superstition was warning. In the moment described, each one of them was already marked by blindness and stone-heartiness. Although it is true that both women and sing from a difference, the difference itself was often perceived as some kind of lack. The women's lack had always been more obvious, more painful and more dangerous, more influential to their private lives. Their very position had been frequently defined by lack, of means, lack of choice, lack of support , even their bodies were defined by a lack.
So, if “new women return ... from ’without’ ”, it was exactly this state of being ’without’ where these two women were united in the song.
"…under the threshold, instead of her mother's bones, she found robes made of pure gold"
Eyesight, daylight, dawn, sun, gold and golden objects were all connected to the deity of light. Milica's Diary ended when the sun's peak had gone and the seasonal cycle was turning toward winter, and Anica Savić-Rebac justly asked whether Milica on purpose had ended her notes in the expectation of grape-picking (Savić-Rebac 1966, 155), concluding the writings from 1854 by folk poems and translations.
The grapes, which were thus represented as the final fruit of this "fairy summer" were both of pagan and Christian meaning, Milica wrote how she adorned her little niece with grapes as a tiny Bacchus , but warned some time before that it had been unthinkable to taste a grape prior to its sanctification in Church on Metamorphosis, August 6th. Vine, grapes, wine were all metaphors of nature's life cycles, promises of eternal return of sun and eternal life.
Milica Srpkinja herself was, when writing the diary, on the border of youth and mature womanhood, in the age of about 25. Her notes and poems, written ten years later, which she added to the text in 1866, told us that reality was soon to deeply dent into her life. In a decade, she had inevitably fallen out of the circle of maternal time into the linear, irreversible, outer time, and the process of turning her into "a martyr", a vain embodiment, had begun.
Not only her age, but almost every element depicted in her diary confirms that Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja's existed on the geographical, historical and metaphysical borders. She was a fervently patriotic Serb in Austro-Hungarian state, looking from Fruška gora onto the Serbian hills; she was a woman and a writer ; she wrote her Diary from the point inside the "idyllic enclave" but remembering or referring to the outside world; she dedicated it to her "Fruška", but meant it for those who distrusted her ; she was a good Christian daughter with devotion to the maternal realm of nymphs, she transcribed the Voice of the Mother into the Language of the Father,.
Her Diary itself had been buried under the thresholds of ancient and modern poetry, and of literary history mainstream and women's literary tradition. The mastery of this 'double-voiced' discourse was in this subtle but profound game of depicting and reviving the very pleasure of words, voices, of maternal tongue, hidden under the surface of everyday trivia.
That is the reason why, when we unbury it, it reappears as the golden texture of magnificently seductive dress, as the foremother's generous body.
Belgrade, December 1999.